Technology Enhances Warrant Application Process in Florida

New technologies such as electronic warrants and remote first court appearances for holidays and weekends have eliminated a sizable chunk of paperwork for the judges in St. Johns County, Fla.

by Nick Blank, The St. Augustine Record / November 18, 2019
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(TNS) — Electronic warrants and remote first appearances for holidays and weekends have eliminated a sizable chunk of paperwork for St. Johns County, Fla., judges.

Warrants require a law enforcement officer to write it, call and find a judge and drive to get the judge's signature, sometimes at the judge's home.

"Most people do not realize that there is a judge working somewhere every single day in the circuit and nationwide," Circuit Judge Howard Maltz said.

That's the way warrants have been acquired for 200 years, Maltz said. Implemented last month, e-warrants only require a computer screen and a secure server.

Maltz gestured to the docket on his screen and a neat list displaying warrant affidavits, sworn statements needed to obtain the warrant. Judges can apply a signature and date with a watermark. The detective then receives a confirmation email.

He said law enforcement often doesn't have time on its side, such as a warrant to search a house or draw blood.

"Every minute counts with those things, if it's taking you two or three hours to get a warrant, your evidence is dissipating," Maltz said. "Now it takes minutes with this system."

St. Johns County Sheriff's Office Lt. Jeremy Russell, who manages the Major Crimes Unit and Special Victims Unit, said more than 20 warrants had entered the system so far.

E-warrants reduced the amount of travel across a large county to obtain warrants, he added.

"If we were working a case in Hastings and needed an after-hours judge and the judge lives up on the north end of the county, then it would take us about an hour-and-a-half round trip," Russell said. "This really speeds up our efficiency and being able to cut some of that drive time out."

The e-warrant system is available to parts of the Sheriff's Office and has slowly been integrated. Russell said local municipal law enforcement organizations would receive training on the system.

The Sheriff's Office looked for a program for years, Russell said. St. Johns County's six judges will use the same software as the 12th Judicial Circuit, which covers Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties. It cost $3,000 to set up the server.

Judges like Maltz rotate for holidays and weekends. Through Zoom, a video communication platform, first appearances in court can be handled with access to a device with video capabilities.

That helps ease the burden on judges, who are stretched thin in this growing county.

In 2018, the ratio of circuit judges to St. Johns County population was 63,565-to-1 and ratio of county judges to residents was 127,131-to-1.

"We're incredibly understaffed," Maltz said.

The only cost was a laptop to handle secure virtual private networks, he added.

"We have to keep up with modern times," Maltz said. "Everything is coming to you electronically now."

©2019 The St. Augustine Record, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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